If you slip or fall and hurt a bone then it’s not always easy to know precisely how much damage you’ve done. Things like shock and adrenaline can be big confounding factors that cause you not to feel as much pain and so it’s easily possible to mistake a serious injury for a minor one. Of course in some cases a break is easy to spot, if it means your arm or leg looks twisted out of shape, or if the bone has splintered and pierced the skin either of which are very serious and should be treated immediately. However with a hairline fracture or some smaller breaks, it can be hard for a doctor even to identify using an x-ray. Putting more pressure on the joint or bone once it’s broken can then cause this injury to worsen and lead to a more serious break over time, nerve damage, healing in the wrong position, or infection. Thus after an initial check for any obviously broken areas, it’s important to treat any such injury as though it is a break until you see a medical professional.
The first thing to do with a suspected break then is to call the emergency service for help, and then to take pressure off of it while you wait. If you’re in shock then it’s important to sit down in case you faint or pass out which could lead to further injury. You should find a place to sit then – even this is on the ground – and stay in that position until help arrives without putting weight on your damaged arm or leg.
If you find that you are in shock (if you feel faint, dizzy and detached and look shaky and pale) then you can counter this in several ways. Put your head between your legs and look down, try to get outside for fresh air if you’re not already, and ask for a hot cup of tea with lots of sugar in it to restore your blood sugar level. You may find you need to be sick so ask for a carrier bag or a bin nearby.
Another important tip is to try to prevent the swelling. This will decrease the pain, help the joint, and help the health care professionals to see and work with the area to ascertain the nature of your wound. To achieve this make sure you keep the area elevated above your heart which will cause the fluids to ‘drain’ out of it. You can do this either with a sling or by resting an injured limb on a stool or pile of cushions. Another way to reduce swelling is with an ice pack held against the swollen area, and if you don’t have access to one then a bag of frozen peas for example will do much the same job. Some painkillers such as Ibuprofen also have anti-inflammatory properties and will also make the pain more manageable while you wait for help.
Meanwhile it’s a good idea to lightly but firmly compress the area with a bandage which will prevent pieces of bone from moving within the arm or leg. If it is your leg that is broken and you are forced to walk a short distance then this will also help you to support yourself on that limb (you should also get support from other people if there is someone around). Once an ambulance arrives they should be able to take over and will get you into the vehicle using a stretcher or wheelchair.